A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Robert E. Briney

JOHN DICKSON CARR – The Third Bullet and Other Stories. Harper & Brothers, hardcover, 1954. Bantam #1447, paperback, 1956.

   The virtues of Carr’s detective novels are present in his short fiction as well. He gets about his work with more directness, and there are fewer atmospheric side trips, but the ingenuity of plot, the sprightly dialogue, and the smooth misdirection are all in evidence. The seven stories in this collection are the cream of his detective short stories.

   The title story is actually a long novelette, originally published in England in 1937 and later reprinted in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, where all the other stories in the book first appeared. (The book is dedicated to Frederic Dannay, EQMM‘s founder and editor,” who inspired so many of these stories.” )

   â€œ”The Third Bullet” is a fully developed locked-room story, complete with floor plan, false alibis, and a thoroughly detestable villain. In “The Clue of the Red Wig,” CID inspector Adam Bell and a delightful interfering reporter, Jacqueline Dubois, investigate the murder of health-and-exercise columnist Hazel Loring, found beaten to death, “half-dressed, in a public garden on a bitter December night.”

   Three of the stories are locked-room crimes investigated by Dr. Gideon Fell: “The Wrong Problem,” “The Proverbial Murder,” and “The Locked Room.” “The Gentleman from Paris” is an EQMM prize-winning story set in Paris in 1849, in which the identity of the detective is of as much interest as the solution to the crime. The remaining story, “The House in Goblin Wood,” originally appeared under Carr’s pseudonym, Carter Dickson, and features Dickson’s series detective Sir Henry Merrivale. A girl disappears from a country cottage, all of whose exits are locked or under observation. The story is one of Carr’s most ingenious, and also one of his grimmest, in spite of the classic pratfall with which it opens.

   This collection is a perfect accompaniment to “The Locked Room Lecture” [from The Three Coffins], offering cleverly wrought demonstrations of all of Dr. Fell’s analytical points. It also demonstrates the diversity that can exist within one seemingly restrictive category of detective story. And the stories are, above all, immensely readable.

   Among the more than fifty books published under the Carr by-line, many are worth special attention. The Blind Barber (1934) is a notably smooth blending of grisly murder and all-out farce, as a slasher-type killer is loose on an ocean liner. Dr. Fell is not on board, but acts as an armchair detective in the later chapters. Another of Dr. Fell’s cases, The Crooked Hinge (1938), has what is probably the most audacious of Carr’s plots.

   He Who Whispers (1946) and Below Suspicion (1950) expertly mix eerie atmosphere with baffing murders. The latter book features one of Carr’s most interesting secondary characters, the barrister Patrick Butler. Among the non-series books, The Burning Court (1937) is the most praiseworthy.

   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.

Note:   Earlier reviews of the novels of John Dickson Carr by Bob Briney taken from 1001 Midnights are:

     The Arabian Night Murder.
     Castle Skull.
     The Devil in Velvet.
     The Three Coffins.